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Historical Fiction

Hugh sat on the settee and looked at his grandfather who was dwarfed by his arm chair.

“Dad said you were taller than him once and weighed sixteen stone”

“I did but marrying your grandmother allowed me to halve my weight in a few years. Before then I was a vegetarian in a meat eating world and was fed lots of potatoes and cheese. You grandmother was a vegetarian and so I was fed a better diet. Over the last twelve years I have shrunk several inches – that’s what age does to one.”

Hugh’s grandmother came in carrying a tray and her husband leapt up and placed the tallest table from the nest of tables by his grandson. Grandmother put the tray down and passed a cup of coffee to her husband who sat back down again. There was a glass of orange on the tray and three chocolate biscuits on the tray. As she was leaving the room she said, “Don’t let you grandfather persuade you to part with any of the biscuits – he doesn’t need one.”

“You’re father said that you wanted to ask me about something that I was involved with when I was younger for a History Project?

“I know that I had Scarlet Fever when I was six or seven. I remember having a nurse come with a very large needle and injecting me in my bottom – which was pretty frightening and uncomfortable. I also remember that once a week my parents visited but they had to stand on benches, near the ward window, outside as I was in isolation. I also remember when I was allowed to walk in the grounds how I found, and enjoyed some wonderful greengages growing on a tree near the ward. When I got home all my toys, clothes and books had been destroyed.

“My grandfather had brought my mother to the hospital and picked me up when I was discharged. His brother was visiting from the U.S.A. and had brought his big car with him. It was the first time I had ridden in a car. My mother called the driver Uncle John and asked about Auntie Minnie. Granddad gave me a duck shooting toy – metal ducks on a rod with as bent metal gun with a spring that fired wooden blocks at the ducks. Uncle John had bought me a couple of books.

“My parents told me they had been very frightened when the ambulance came to take me to hospital as the ambulance men were wearing protective suits with helmets that had an inbuilt breathing apparatus. An official had taken all my clothes books and toys out into the garden and burnt them, whilst another official had fumigated and sealed my bedroom. I have often wondered where the hospital was but have never found out. The town’s record office, who I contacted recently, said they have no record of an isolation hospital in the area in the late 1940’s. Apparently Scarlet Fever is no longer considered a serious illness any longer as it can be treated with antibiotics”

“Wow! Granddad that sounds pretty scary but it’s not what I need. Did you ever join an organisation that was trying to affect how things were done?”

“You mean like joining the Green Party and voting Green – which is pretty ineffective as the voting system basically ignores any group that cannot muster a large number in a constituency and for the Greens that only happens in Brighton Pavilion.”

“Well.. Something like that but a long time ago.”

“Like CND?”

“What was that?”

“The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.”

“Yes. That sounds like what my history teacher wants. Were you involved?”

“Yes but rather late in its history.”


“Well I was only four years old when the movement began in 1945 and it was 17 years later that I got involved.”

“So what made you get involved?”

“Your Great Grandmother became a Civil Defence volunteer in the 1950’s. This was an organisation supported by the government to provide a worthwhile response to the nuclear threat during the Cold War. The cold war was a long period when there was tension between Capitalism and Communism and as a result a threat of nuclear war. In 1956 the argument was that both sides had sufficient nuclear devices that they could destroy the other and so neither would dare to start a war.

“As I said my mother was a member of Civil Defence, she had a uniform and explained to us what to do in the event of a nuclear attack. At the time I was too young to see, as I did when I was twenty, that the defence ideas were ridiculous. The one’s I remember were about putting sticky tape crosses on glass windows so the force of an explosion would not shatter the glass and to have stocks of canned food to survive for, I think, a fortnight. Given that the bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki destroyed everything within 5 miles of the epicentre and killed possibly as many as 280,000 people and that people who survived were made ill by atomic poisoning, a bit of sticky tape and food for a fortnight seems an inadequate response. In fact the nuclear cloud with its radiation poisoning could spread for miles depending on wind direction. The effect lasted for years with defective babies born many years later and food in the area was also unsafe to eat for years. This is why CND was formed .There was a large rally in London in 1958.”

“Did you get involved then Granddad?”

“No I was still at school and my main concern was taking my ‘A’ levels.”

“So when did you get involved?”

 “I went to college in September 1961. At that time there were no student fees and accommodation, food and money for books and general living were provided. Parents paid a proportion of this if they earned enough money – my parents did not have to pay anything as dad had just qualified as a teacher (he had been an instructor for years) and his pay was pretty poor so they did not have to pay anything. This meant, unlike today, I did not have to find a job to support myself and had a lot of free time – at least for the first two years.

“Some students had been to a meeting in Nottingham – my college was just outside the city – and brought back leaflets which they distributed round the campus. A lot of us read them and decided to join a rally in the city centre a week later. When we arrived many of us were given posters and we were all given badges. We were encouraged to shout ‘BAN THE BOMB’ – it was fun to join in a rhythmic chant BAN THE BOMB.....BAN THE BOMB for about quarter of an hour. We then listened to several speakers telling us about Hiroshima and the dangers of having planes flying above us carrying the bomb – what if something went wrong and the plane crashed? They also said that the cold war was hotting up - Russia was becoming more aggressive and the risks of starting a war accidently were very great. So most of us in the crowd signed up to going on a march in Leicester a fortnight later. Seemed a great way to spend a day,  especially as we were told free buses were provided.

“There were hundreds of us in Leicester from all the area around – some even having travelled up from London. It was a peaceful march, apart from the chanting. The marchers were flanked on each side by Leicester city police all of whom were well over six foot tall. We listened to the speeches and then got back on the buses to drive back to Nottingham.”

“Was that it?”

“No. I went to quite a few rallies in Nottingham. At one rally someone next to me asked if I had met the ‘ prof’. I said I hadn’t and he suggested I went with him saying there was beer and cake. So I followed him into the backstreets and up to a large room where there was an older guy who welcomed me and suggested I got a beer and a piece of cake. There were about twelve of us who were new and about three who obviously new the ropes. I noticed one of the new one’s was older than the rest of us and he told me he was a mature student studying through Boots education programme. The prof told us about how he hoped we’d join the cause and said there was a meeting next week at the same time, in the same place, we would be very welcome but there would be no cake and beer.

“I followed the mature student down the stairs and saw him get into a car with three other guys who had been waiting for him.

“My college had a close association with Nottingham Playhouse and during that week we had a visit from their resident producer. They were performing Ibsen’s ‘An Enemy of the People’ where actors began to chant that the main character was an enemy of the people. He explained that the chant starts with one person and gradually grows. He suggested that this was what happened when Pilate asked the crowd who to save Jesus? or Barabbas? The crowd started saying Jesus but not all together. The chief priests had planted people in the crowd to get them chanting Barabbas. He then got us to experiment. Most of us were to call Jesus when, and only when, he pointed to us but a few were told to say Barabbas and to keep repeating Barabbas so gradually Barabbas became the clear message.

“I arrived a little late for the Prof’s meeting as I had decided to drive and had difficulty parking. So I was standing at the back with no one beside me. The Prof started talking about us all being brothers, about every one being equal, and we should all be treated equally. I noticed that there were people sprinkled amongst the group who started calling out agreement and soon everyone, except me and the mature student who was standing right by the door, joined in. He then started saying we had to fight for our freedom and I noticed the mature student slip out of the door and I followed him down the stairs. He crossed the street again to the car waiting for him. The four occupants got out and they stood talking in a huddle – I had moved round the corner into another street but I could see them plainly. The mature student got into the car and was obviously talking on a car radio whilst the others crossed the street and made sure no one could leave through the door. I don’t know what happened after that because I decided to make myself scarce. Just before I reached my car I heard several police cars sounding their sirens. So I think I had made the right decision.”

“So what happened and did you go to any more meetings?”

“I don’t know but I never went to see the Prof again. I did go to another CND rally in the City Square. I was on the steps of the Council House a bit back from the main group. I saw a group of men coming across the other end of the square carrying a Union Jack flags and chanting, ‘Stop the reds.’ There were some scuffles and a number of fights which stopped when they heard police whistles and police car sirens. I took the trolley bus back to college and decided not to get involved anymore.”

“So was that the end of CND?”

“No I think it still exists. If you look it up on Google you’ll find it becomes active every now and again when there is there seems to be a threat to civilisation, like when Cruise missiles were being deployed and a large group of  women set up a peace camp at Greenham Common. They were there from 1981 to 2000. Hope that’s what your history teacher wants.”

“Thanks granddad and thank grandma for the Orange and chocolate biscuits – I won’t let on that you ate one of them.”

February 11, 2021 21:39

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1 comment

Mental Vagabond
20:22 Feb 18, 2021

An interesting look into an important moment in history. That old man had quite a storied life - one can only wonder what he might have said about the Scarlet Fever and the Green Party!


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